When your application to become an English Language Assistant has been accepted, the next step will be to prepare for your placement.
You will receive a detailed information pack during the summer, around four to six weeks before you depart. This information will be specific to the country you will be working in and will cover topics such as inductions and lesson ideas.
It is important to plan contact with your school, arranging insurance and visas, and looking after yourself when you are abroad. Before you leave, you may find it useful to visit the British Council's UK Students Abroad website, aimed at those looking to work or study overseas.
Contacting your school
You will be provided with the name and location of your host institution by the local education authority or the institution itself. If you have been appointed to Austria, Belgium or China, you will receive this information in an email from the British Council.
You should make immediate contact with the Head of English at the institution to confirm you accept the post.
To prepare fully for your placement, you should find out the following from your placement institution:
- the age range of the students
- if the institution can help you with accommodation
- what materials you should take
- term dates
- what clothes you should wear in school.
The British Council will give you the contact details of assistants who have worked in your region the previous year, who will be happy to give tips and advice about being an assistant and living in the region. If there were no predecessors, your institution may have had their own assistant from an English-speaking country and may be able to put you in touch with them.
Travel and insurance
You are responsible for your own travel costs to and from the country where you will be working.
If you are appointed to China or Latin America you will usually be advised to travel on specific days so as to co-ordinate your arrival with other assistants in order to be able to meet at the airport.
If you are appointed to Latin America, you should buy a return flight with a flexible return date (or the option to change the return date) as this is often cheaper than buying two single tickets.
If you are appointed to China, you should buy a return ticket and your school will reimburse your flights upon completion of the contract.
Launched in 2001, ‘Know Before You Go’ is an ongoing consular awareness campaign run by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). It encourages British nationals to be better prepared for their overseas trips with a view to avoiding common travelling traumas, risks and dangers. Assistants going to countries outside Europe in particular should ensure they read this information.
You must ensure that you have medical and travel insurance for the duration of your appointment, including travel to and from the UK.
If you are appointed to any EU country, you should get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This will cover you for emergency healthcare in the EU. The EHIC is free of charge – be wary of non-official websites that try to charge you for applying.
Country-specific information regarding insurance is provided to all Language Assistants prior to departure as part of their summer information pack. Please read the relevant sections carefully.
The information pack you will receive from the British Council around four to six weeks before departure will include contact details of assistants who were posted to your region last year. They may be able to give you advice about accommodation.
If you have been appointed to Canada or Latin America, accommodation will almost certainly be found for you, even if only on a temporary basis. If you have been appointed to China, accommodation is usually provided on or near campus.
If you have to find your own accommodation, ask your school if they can help or if someone can let you stay with them temporarily. Staff and student notice boards, local newspapers and tourist offices are potential sources of accommodation.
When searching for accommodation, do not go on viewings alone, or advertise your phone number in public places.
If you can't find something immediately, don't panic. The time it takes to find a suitable place to live varies from place to place. Ask as many people as you can for help if you need it.
Education and lesson planning
Try to find out some basic facts before you go about the education system of the country you are going to. Information about the education systems in Europe can be found on the Eurydice website.
To help you with teaching, the Language Assistant – Teaching English site contains tips and resources to help you in the classroom. The British Council office in the area you placed in may also have information and materials to help you.
Make sure that you:
- prepare carefully and seriously for lessons
- arrange to discuss your work regularly with your mentor teacher
- arrive for class on time, even if the students are late
- show an interest in your students’ progress
- offer to make up time for classes missed.
If you want to enrol on a language course at a local university, you might have to produce a copy of your birth certificate, your school exam or degree certificates and written proof of your appointment. You should take several photocopies of each.
The initial settling-in period can be difficult. You may not be living in the same place as other assistants, and you cannot always depend on teaching staff in your school for a social life, so you need to be resourceful. Whatever your situation, you will not be the only one.
Attending local classes and clubs and emailing past and present assistants in your area can help you settle in. If this does not work and you are still unhappy, talk to your mentor or another teacher in the school. They may have some useful advice or contacts.
If problems occur, you should contact the below people in this order to find a solution:
- Your mentor teacher
- Head of department or senior member of staff
- Representative at local education authority, if relevant
- Our partner organisation in the country where you are working
- The British Council in the UK.
You should attempt to solve problems locally before calling your UK university or the British Council in the UK.
Your mentor teacher should also be able to make you aware of cultural differences to help you avoid any misunderstandings.
STAYING IN TOUCH
You will be able to maintain contact with Language Assistants in your country and around the world, as well as finding out the latest programme information, through the Language Assistants Facebook page and Twitter feed.